DIY: Preserving Morels
By Eugenia Bone | Photo By Jim Klousia 3
Editor’s Note: Eugenia Bone is the author of Mycophilia: Revelations From the Weird World of Mushrooms, which explores the biology and culture of mycology and mycologists. If you've never eaten morels before, Eugenia cautions, “Keep in mind that all raw mushrooms are indigestible and some edible mushrooms are poisonous when eaten raw. Raw morels are poisonous, but cooked they are one of the most delicious foods on the planet.” Please cook all mushrooms thoroughly before eating. Edible Madison thanks Eugenia for her wonderful seasonal Edible Nation contribution, which includes this article as well as “Morel Mania” and a “Chicken with Sherry and Morels” recipe.
If you should be so lucky as to have more morels than you can eat fresh within a few days of picking, then drying is a good preservation method. Morels must be dried until less than ten percent moisture remains to ensure no microorganism can grow. That’s crisp enough to be easily broken.
If you need to keep the morels in the fridge for a day or two before drying, place them in a loosely closed paper bag in the fridge. The key to staving off spoilage is to keep them cool and dry, with a little ventilation.
There are three techniques: drying in a food dryer, air drying, and oven drying. To prepare the morels for drying, soak the morels in salted water, agitating them occasionally, for a few minutes to loosen any grit that may be captured in the folds of the cap. Do not allow them to soak for long as morels absorb water and will be harder to dry. Allow to drain thoroughly. Split large mushrooms (over 2 ½ inches tall) in half, longitudinally. Do not put the morels in the fridge after they have been washed.
To dry in a food dryer, place the clean morels in the dryer and set at 110 degrees for 8 to 10 hours. To air dry, thread a poultry needle with light culinary twine or dental floss and string clean morels longitudinally. Hang the strings in a dry, ventilated place for about 36 hours.
To dry in an oven, thread each mushroom through the stem with a needle threaded with about 6 inches of dental floss. Tie the mushrooms to a rack in your oven so they hang caps down and are well separated: adjust your oven racks to accommodate two layers of hanging morels, if you have that many. Remove any unused racks. Set the oven at the lowest temperature you can and leave the door partially open. If your oven is too hot (over 140 degrees), you may end up cooking the mushrooms, rather than simply removing all moisture from them. Many ovens cannot be set below 200 degrees, so set the oven to “warm” and leave the oven door partially open. Set the oven to the convection bake feature if you have one, as this will keep the air rotating. The mushrooms will dry in 8 to 10 hours, depending on their size. Properly dried morels should be brittle and broken easily.
Pack dried morels in freezer jars (a gallon of fresh morels will produce a quart of dried) and freeze for up to a year. You can also store them at room temperature in an airtight container but there will be some flavor loss over time. If your morels are not 90 percent moisture-free—if they feel leathery, for example—it’s okay, but then you must freeze them (process on next page).
To rehydrate morels, place them in a bowl of cool water, with a ratio of about 1 part morels to 3 parts water. To keep the morels submerged, fill a baggie with water and place it on top of the morels. After 10 to 20 minutes, they will be soft and return to their fresh shape, ready to cook. The water will be very flavorful. Strain it and use when cooking the morels.
For best results, be sure your freezer is cold. Zero degrees will hold the mushrooms for the full time period. If your freezer is warmer, use the foods sooner. Never freeze mushrooms raw as they may develop an off flavor, which you will notice when you cook them. This recipe calls for sautéing the morels in butter before freezing, but you can also boil them whole for about 5 minutes, then freeze as described below.
1 lb. morels, cut in half if small, in rounds if large
2 tablespoons butter
Soak the morels in salted water, agitating them occasionally, for about a few minutes to loosen any grit that may be captured in the folds of the cap.
Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet over a medium heat. In batches, add the mushrooms, turn the heat down to medium low, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their liquid.
To preserve, it is best for the mushrooms to be frozen in their liquid, which protects the tissue of the mushrooms, the same way sugar syrup protects pit fruit when you freeze it.
Dump the mushrooms and their liquid into a bowl, allow to cool, then pack the mushrooms and liquid equally into 2 freezer baggies (about 1 to 2 cups per baggie depending on how much water was in the mushrooms in the first place). Push the air out of the baggies, seal and freeze.
To defrost, place the mushrooms in the refrigerator. They will be ready to cook in about 1 hour. If they are still frosty when you are ready to cook them, it’s okay. You can dump the frozen mushrooms directly into stews and soups.
Precooked frozen mushrooms hold beautifully in the freezer for 9 months to a year.
I am bending the USDA rules here. Their canned mushroom technique is for white buttons only. I think the reason why they recommend you not can wild mushrooms is because of the risk of mistakenly canning poisonous or otherwise inedible mushrooms. No food safety lab has tested them yet, maybe because they can’t be tested due to variables arising from the fact that they are wild. Since I know exactly what kind of mushrooms I’ve picked, and used very fresh, fine mushrooms that were relative in size to the recommended white button (or smaller), I am confident this recipe is good. But note if you use it for canning morels: they must be equivalent in size to a small or medium white button and they must be pristinely fresh and clean.
1 lb. morel mushrooms
1 teaspoon salt per jar (optional)
Soak the morels in salted water, agitating them occasionally, for about 5 minutes to loosen any grit that may be captured in the folds of the cap.
Place the morels in a pot of boiling water and boil gently for 5 minutes.
Have ready two clean pint jars and band, with new lids that have been simmered in hot water to soften the rubberized flange.
Drain the morels and pack them into clean pint jars. Add salt if you like (the salt is not necessary for safe canning—only for flavor). Cover the morels with boiling water (you can reuse the water you boiled the morels in but there may be some grit in it). Place the lids and screw on the bands fingertip tight.
Process the jars in your pressure canner as per the instructions of your individual canner at 10 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes.
Allow the pressure to come down, and open the lid of the canner away from you to avoid getting hot steam on your face. Remove the jars—they will still be boiling. It’s okay. Let the jars cool on a rack for about 6 hours.
When cool, check the seals and store in a cool dark place. Refrigerate after opening.